Posts Tagged ‘Julius Randle’

Morning shootaround — Feb. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Nets’ Johnson may pursue buyout | Report: Rest of season may be tryout for Scott | Suns’ Watson vows to ‘nurture’ Morris

No. 1: Johnson won’t ask for trade, may seek buyout — Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson is two seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance and stats-wise at his lowest point in terms of scoring average (11.3 points) since 2002-03. But Johnson is also in the final year of the six-year, $119 million deal he inked back in 2010. While his high-scoring days are long gone, Johnson could be a vital pickup for a contender at the trade deadline. As he languishes on one of the East’s worst teams, Johnson told The Record‘s Andy Vasquez he won’t force a trade:

“I’m a professional, man,” Johnson said after practice. “Obviously this late in my career this isn’t the ideal situation. Obviously. But I’m not forcing anything, I haven’t went to management and asked for anything. I come to work day in and day out to compete and have fun, that’s what it’s about. And whatever happens, happens. Obviously this is a tough situation, but we’re all in this together and everybody in this locker room is who we’ve got. So no pointing fingers, we’re just coming out and just competing.”

It wouldn’t be easy for the Nets to trade Johnson’s nearly $25 million expiring contract. But there’s also the possibility of a buyout. Last month, ESPN reported that Johnson isn’t interested. But when asked about the possibility on Tuesday, Johnson left the door open and said he’ll explore the possibilities this week with his agent, Jeff Schwartz.

“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Johnson said when asked if he was open to a buyout. “My agent was here last night, and me and him are supposed to sit down and talk within the next week or so. So, I’m sure — whether or not it comes up, I don’t know, but we’ll talk.”

But even if Johnson demanded a trade, or wanted to negotiate a buyout, it’s unclear who would make the decisions on the Nets’ end. The franchise is still looking for a new general manager after Billy King was removed from the job on Jan. 10.

Johnson also reiterated what he told The Record earlier this season: playing for a contender will he his top priority when he becomes a free agent this summer.

“I just want a winning situation,” said Johnson, who added he plans to play two or three more seasons after this one before retiring. “It’s not going to be to no highest bidder or nothing like that, I just want to make sure the situation’s right for me. … the last couple years man I really just want to enjoy it and play on great teams.”

“I’m not saying that’s not possible,” Johnson said of a return to Brooklyn. “We’ll see what happens, I think a lot can happen between now and then.”

It’s been a struggle of a season for Johnson, who is averaging 11.3 points per game (his lowest since 2002-03) and shooting 39.0 percent (which would be the lowest shooting percentage for a season in his career). But he showed flashes of a resurgence in January when he shot 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent from three-point range and averaged 13.5 points.

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Morning shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

How Divac nearly upended Kobe trade | Curry, Barnes back in mix for Warriors | Thunder fall apart vs. Kings | Scott says Randle needs to ‘grow up’

No. 1: Divac nearly cancelled Kobe trade to Lakers — Today, Vlade Divac is the Sacramento Kings’ general manager after a 16-year NBA playing career from 1989-2005. In early-to mid-1990s, Divac was a solid young center on the Los Angeles Lakers who was a part of one Finals team with Magic Johnson (1991) and a key cog in a youthful Lakers group (including Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and others) that seemed primed for big things out West. Yet come the night of the 1996 Draft, Divac was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to rookie (and future franchise icon) Kobe Bryant. As Divac explains to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, though, he wanted nothing to do with the trade and nearly axed the deal by retiring rather than play in Charlotte:

“My feelings were that I play basketball for fun. This is not fun,” Divac recently told Yahoo Sports about the 1996 draft-day deal that sent him to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Bryant, who is expected to play his final game in Sacramento on Thursday. “If somebody asked before, ‘Vlade, are you going to play basketball over there [in Charlotte]?’ It’s not going to happen. I talked to my wife and told her, ‘Look, I’m going to retire.’

“It would have been so bad. I would have been the most hated guy in L.A.”

The Serbian quickly fell in love with Los Angeles and was in even deeper love playing for the Lakers, averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds primarily as a starter from 1989-1996.

But before the 1996 draft, then-Lakers general manager Jerry West became infatuated with Bryant, the high school kid from Philadelphia who was destined to become a superstar. West worked out a deal to send Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick in the draft, which the Hornets used to select Bryant for the Lakers. By trading Divac, who was set to make $4.7 million in the 1996-97 season, the Lakers would clear the needed salary-cap space to make a lucrative offer to Shaquille O’Neal in free agency.

Divac was in Europe and was stunned when his agent told him about the trade. Days later, Divac said he informed the Lakers he planned to retire, which would have prevented the team from trading him for Bryant.

“It felt like someone from behind hit me with a hammer,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “It was the first time in my career that something happened in a way I didn’t plan. I was devastated. I was thinking, ‘I play basketball for fun.’ My father said when I brought my first [basketball paycheck] back home, ‘Who gave this to you? Are they crazy? Do they know you would play basketball even if they don’t pay you?’

“I am not going to play basketball because I have to play. I am going to play for fun. I was 28. I am not going to go somewhere and be forced to play basketball. I told my agent that I am not going to Charlotte. I loved L.A. I loved the Lakers. For every kid that played basketball, it was basketball heaven being with Magic and the other guys.”

Within 10 days after the draft, Divac said he returned to Los Angeles ready to retire, yet he agreed to meet with West. After an “emotional meeting” with West, Divac changed his mind and agreed to the trade.

“Jerry called me and I flew back to L.A. and we had lunch,” Divac said. “The trade happened [in principle], but I was holding it up. … It was a great conversation. He said, ‘Why don’t you go over there and explore and see if you like it or not?’

“Me and Jerry had a very good relationship. He was the guy who was waiting for me at the airport [after being drafted in 1989]. It was an emotional meeting for both of us. And I trust him so much. He is the best basketball mind in the world. When Jerry tells you something, you believe it.”

Divac decided to have his wife and children stay in Los Angeles for stability while he played the next two seasons with Charlotte. Despite initial struggles, he averaged 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Hornets in two seasons from 1996-98.

“We played sellout basketball in front of 24,000 people who love basketball in North Carolina,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “Each year we had 50-plus wins, and when you win it’s fun. But my first 10 games, I was awful. I can’t explain it. I was fumbling the ball. The funny thing was one of my first games was against the Lakers. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’

“I felt like I started playing basketball two days ago. There was still mental stuff. I was thinking negative stuff like, ‘Why did they trade me? Was it worth it [coming here]?’ Then I said to myself, ‘Come on, Vlade, it’s just a game.’ I knew that after two years I would come out West and move closer to my family.”

Divac signed as a free agent with the Kings in 1998 with his family and a return to the West Coast in mind. Divac and the Kings pushed the Lakers to brink of elimination entering Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, but the Lakers would win the next two games to stop Sacramento from making its first Finals appearance.

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Morning Shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jordan pays tribute to Kobe | Cavs right ship with team meeting | Spurs find ways to win | Report: Burks opts for surgery

No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…

Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.

“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”

Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”

While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.

“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”

Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.

“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”

But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.

“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”

Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.

“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”


VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Scott’s job safe | Thompson continues development | Melo not getting calls | Jefferson suspended five games

No. 1: Report: Scott’s job safe After losing last night in overtime to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers’ fourth loss in a row, the Lakers dropped to 3-19 on the season, the second-worst record in the NBA. While it seemed likely that the Los Angeles Lakers, with their mix of youth and veteran talent, would probably have to be lucky to qualify for the playoffs in Byron Scott‘s second season as head coach, few people expected it to be this bad, this early. But according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Scott’s job is probably safe for the season

His star player has kept trying to fight Father Time with little success. His NBA lottery picks have accepted unexpected bench roles publicly, but admittedly expressed initial frustration.

He has also overseen the Lakers’ worst start in franchise history, a 123-122 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday at Target Center marking the team’s fourth consecutive loss as the Western Conference’s worst team.

But Byron Scott still has enough support from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss that he is expected to coach through the rest of the 2015-16 season, according to team sources familiar with the situation. With Scott signing a four-year, $17 million deal last summer, the Lakers plan to evaluate his future once the 2015-16 season ends, according to a team source.

The Lakers are not happy with the persistent losing, obviously. But Kupchak and Buss sympathize with Scott on handling what one team source called “a no-win situation.”

On one hand, Scott has felt pressure to handle Kobe Bryant‘s workload in his 20th and final NBA season. Scott remains mindful of Bryant’s struggles, averaging 16.2 points per game average on 30.6-percent shooting in 31.3 minutes per game. But the Lakers also want to play Bryant significant minutes out of reverence for his five NBA titles and to enjoy his farewell tour.

But out of respect for Bryant’s extensive accomplishments that have spanned five NBA championships and his current retirement tour, the Lakers have understood Scott’s tendency to lean on him heavily. They are also mindful of the challenge it takes to manage Bryant’s competitive nature. “I want him to enjoy this as much as possible,” Scott said of Bryant. “You’ve never seen him smile as much on the basketball court or talk to his opponents as much as he’s done the last two or three weeks. He’s at a very good place in his life and his career.”

On the other hand, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell represent the Lakers’ long-term future after they selected them seventh overall in 2014 and second overall in 2015. Russell posted a career-high 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting in 32 minutes against Minnesota. Russell added 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting. But Randle and Russell both face learning curves with their development. Randle lacks consistency with his jump shot, while Russell has struggled on defense.

The Lakers have granted Scott the autonomy to coach his team without interference. But Kupchak and/or Buss will likely meet with Scott next week after the team’s eight-game trip to gain a better understanding of his thought process on how he will develop the team’s young players, according to a team source familiar with the situation.

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No. 2: Thompson continues development While the Warriors keep reeling off wins to start this season, Stephen Curry remains the headliner, drawing hundreds of fans each night just to see his warm up routine. But not far behind Curry in terms of popularity and skill is the Warriors’ 25-year-old shooting guard, Klay Thompson. As Thompson told Nima Zarrabi from SLAM, he’s continued evolving as a person while he keeps putting in work as a player

Despite his heavy off-court demand, the goal has not changed for Klay. He wants to continue to transcend his game — he’s only 25 and knows there is still plenty of room for growth. He is excited about working with new Warriors assistant coach Steve Nash to add new wrinkles to his arsenal.

“I worked out with him twice when I was in L.A. and learned a lot about what I need to get better at,” Thompson says. “We didn’t even shoot the ball that much — we did a lot of technical work on things like balance. He’s still in great shape and really gave me some great pointers on how to play at a lower level and work on my balance so I can be in a better position to make plays. I know how good he is going to be for me.”

Thompson’s heard the whispers about teams attempting to mimic the Warriors’ style of play. The notion that teams across the League are planning to attempt more threes, play a little more “small ball.”

“People seem to think it’s easy,” says Thompson, who’s averaging 18.2 ppg through the Warriors’ ongoing and insane 23-game winning streak. “To play our style you really need to have five guys on the court that can shoot, pass and dribble. Not a lot of teams have that, you know?”

His growth as a player has coincided with his development as a communicator. Thoughtful and insightful, he has become a media favorite when it comes to snagging a quality quote.

It once seemed as if he despised having to talk.

“Ask anybody on the team, I said very few words here my first year,” Thompson says. “I feel a lot more comfortable around the facility and all the guys. Even with Bob Myers and our owners Joe and Peter — it’s easier to joke around with those guys being in my fifth year. But they really may have only heard me say 10 words my entire rookie year. It’s been a drastic change.”

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No. 3: Melo not getting calls Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has always played a physical style of basketball, which includes getting to the free throw line regularly. Except when he doesn’t get to the line: So far this season, Anthony is averaging 5.7 free throw attempts per game, a career low. And as Mark Berman writes in the New York Post, Anthony understands why he doesn’t get the calls he thinks he should be getting

A candid Carmelo Anthony explained his recent frustrations at not getting enough foul calls, saying he’s been told by referees he’s the most “difficult player” to officiate and vowing he will never flop.

Anthony, who had received a technical foul in two straight games before the Knicks’ 106-85 destruction at the Jazz’s hands on Wednesday, was in a five-game slump with his shooting percentage dipping to 40.6 percent on the season. He admitted his wife, La La, chastised him for yelling at female referee Lauren Holtkamp in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks.

“They just tell me I’m the most difficult player to referee in the NBA,” Anthony said at the morning shootaround in Utah before going 3 of 11 on the night. “I’ve heard that a couple of times. It’s unclear on who is creating the contact. My goal is to go to the basket. If I’m creating the contact going toward the basket [and] I get hit, it’s a foul.”

Anthony is one of the most physical drivers in the game, but said he feels he’s recently not being effective because he’s not getting to the free-throw line.

“I always get fouled,” Anthony said. “That’s what’s frustrating me. You play so hard, work so hard and don’t benefit from that. You look at other guys, you touch them and look at them wrong and get fouls. It’s a frustrating thing for me as a guy who likes to go to the basket, play in the paint. I like to play physical. It’s frustrating.

“I’m human,” Anthony added. “Those frustrations kick in at times, especially when you’re down there banging and know you’re getting banged on. I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how to play another way.”

So does he need to sell the foul more?

“See, I don’t know how to flop, that’s the thing,” Anthony said. “Nowadays guys know how to flop, get hit and put their head back. I don’t know how to flop. I won’t even look right trying to do that. I won’t even feel right trying it.

“A lot of times I get hit and I still continue to get to my spots just because I’m big and strong. A lot of guys get hit and they stop. I’m not saying they’re flopping, but they’re lighter than me. I can take a lot more physicality.”

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No. 4: Jefferson suspended five games The Charlotte Hornets have started to come together this season, winning three in a row and compiling a 13-8 record, the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. But while their All-NBA center Al Jefferson has missed a few games with a calf injury, it was learned yesterday that he’ll be out a bit longer: The NBA announced that Jefferson will have to serve a five game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, writes the Charlotte Observer‘s Rick Bonnell

“I’m a man and I have to take full responsibility for my actions,” Jefferson said during a media availability before Wednesday’s game against the Miami Heat. “I have to ask for forgiveness and put it behind me and try to move on.

“Sometimes you’ve got to get knocked on your head for your eyes to open up; to handle certain situations.”

Jefferson said he was first made aware he had failed a drug test about two weeks ago. The league informed him and the Hornets Tuesday that the suspension was coming.

Jefferson becomes a free agent in July after the three-season contract he signed in the summer of 2013 expires. It is unclear how this suspension might affect the Hornets’ interest in re-signing him, but the team issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone Jefferson’s behavior.

“We are disappointed in Al’s decisions that led to this suspension. As an organization, we do not condone this behavior,” the team statement read. “We have addressed this with Al. He is regretful and understands that we expect him to learn from this mistake.”

This is the second time in as many seasons the NBA has suspended a Hornets player. Last season the league suspended small forward Jeff Taylor 24 games after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence in Michigan. Taylor now plays for Real Madrid in Spain.

Jefferson was arrested for driving under the influence in the winter of 2010 outside Minneapolis when he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves suspended him two games after that incident.

Jefferson declined to specify what the drug test revealed. A source familiar with the current situation said marijuana is the substance this time connected to Jefferson.

Based on wording in the collective bargaining agreement, a five-game suspension indicates Jefferson was likely already in the marijuana-related league protocol. Under terms of the CBA, a first violation places you in the league’s program. A second violation would result in a $25,000 fine. A third violation would result in a five-game suspension.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: There was a Joel Embiid sighting recently in Philadelphia … Kent Bazemore played the first half last night in Dallas with his shorts on backward, then hit a game-winner … Paul Pierce hasn’t made any decisions about his future … Gregg Popovich hates three-pointersReggie Miller on another great shooter, Steph Curry … The Pistons should be getting Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings back soon … The Pacers’ Solomon Hill may be on the trade blockNick Young joked that his defensive abilities are similar to Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” …

Blogtable: Advice for the Lakers?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Advice for the Lakers? | Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond? | Early-season surprise?



VIDEOIs Kobe Bryant holding back the Lakers?

> The Lakers are struggling. Is there a roster move, a lineup change or something else this team can do to salvage the season? Or should Lakers faithful just accept another lost campaign?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: No magic bullets. This is rebuilding. But they can’t have one foot in and one foot out. They have to commit fully to it, and that has to come from the top — the very top — of the organization. If Jim and/or Jeanie Buss tells coach Byron Scott he has to start playing the young guys more down the stretch, he’ll play the young guys. But they can’t leave it up to him if that’s what they want. EVERY coach is going to try and win the game they’re playing that night, because that’s how they’re judged.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHow long were things rough in Cleveland after LeBron James left? Four seasons, until James came back. What did the Cavaliers do in the interim? They twice drafted No. 1 overall (Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett) and folded in a pair of No. 4 picks as well (Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters). Then they did their feeble best to build around that. The Lakers haven’t suffered nearly as long or as much – it only seems like it because of their storied tradition and lofty expectations – since the Kobe BryantDwight HowardSteve Nash thing flopped in 2012-13. They’ve only had a No. 2 (D’Angelo Russell, just getting going) and a No. 7 (Julius Randle, who promptly got hurt) to work with, as high draft help. And Kobe sort of left without leaving, further limiting payroll and playing options. The Lakers’ best course would be to take their lumps again, make this all about Bryant’s farewell and focus on the money they’ll have to spend in the next two summers.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s over. It’s been over since Kobe’s body began to break down, the Lakers signed him to the “thanks for the memories” contract that devoured the salary cap and Pau Gasol left. Those things happened more than a year ago. This is just reality.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I wouldn’t call it a lost campaign as long as there is valuable progress. That means developing the prospects, especially Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. The losses are going to happen no matter what. But if they come because of inexperience and benefit the future, the organization and fans will be able to find positives. If they come while coach Byron Scott places a priority on winning now and leans heavier on the veterans, then it tips toward a lost season. That could deliver a few extra victories, but not enough to make a difference. As for a potential roster move: there is none, or at least none that will make a big difference. Two names bring real returns, and Randle and Russell are the future, not the trade bait.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: This season was predetermined when the Lakers kept their No. 1 pick and refused to surround Kobe Bryant with win-now talent. The message was: We’ll use this season to say good-bye to Kobe and hello to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. No sense crying about that, and no sense trying to suddenly change the plan after a few weeks of the season. Their fans understand. Everyone understands.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a lost season in regard to competing for a top-10 spot in the Western Conference. It can be a productive season in regard to player development, but is Byron Scott the right coach for that? He says he cares more about winning games than developing the trio of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. Heck, is Scott the right coach for winning games? If the Lakers have any chance of being competitive, they need to play defense. His teams have finished in the bottom five in defensive efficiency each of the last four full seasons he’s coached and this one currently ranks 29th.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It would take roster moves, lineup changes and small miracles for the Lakers to change the trajectory of this season. It’s time to look to the future and the continued development of the young talent on the roster. Let’s be honest. Things look bleak right now in Lakerland. And it’s all self-induced. The Lakers have made a series of mistakes that have led to this dark time when Kobe Bryant should be going out in a blaze of glory instead of fading into the shadows. What looked like a quick-fix super team of Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash went up in smoke and the Lakers have yet to recover. They need to ride this season out and see where life takes them at season’s end.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com This season is about Kobe Bryant‘s potential farewell and the development of Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. Then there is also the goal — the only other reward appropriate to their suffering — of “earning” a Top 3 selection in the lottery and thereby prevent their protected first-round pick from being forwarded to Philadelphia. Since the Lakers are going to be bad anyway, they should aim to be very bad.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Oh, there’s a roster move they could make that might make their team better in the short-term, but would almost assuredly improve them in the long-term. It’s also a trade that would make a lot of Lakers fans revolt, but it should at least be discussed: The Lakers should trade Kobe Bryant. Kobe might be playing down his value right now, but he’s the one player with worth that goes beyond the basketball court. The Lakers still have two first-round picks outstanding, and Kobe might help re-fill those selections. Let the young guys play, and embrace the rebuilding right now which needs to happen sooner or later.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 9


VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times

No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:

Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”

“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”

Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.

These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).

“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”

“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.

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No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:

Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.

He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.

On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.

“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”

But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.

All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.

“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”

With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.

***

No. 3: Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:

Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.

At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.

“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”

When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.

Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.

Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.

Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.

As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.

“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”

Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.

In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.

“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”

***

No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:

Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?

The grit is all but gone.

The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.

Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.

That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.

“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.

However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.

Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.

Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.

“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …

***

ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …


VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland

Struggling Kobe: ‘I suck right now’


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant gives a blunt assessment of himself and the Lakers’ 0-3 start

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Any concerns about how Kobe Bryant‘s infamous competitive nature might impact young teammates like Julius Randle and rookie D’Angelo Russell can be put away, for now.

The 0-3 Lakers have bigger issues, according to their 20-year veteran leader, and they start and end with the man in the mirror. Bryant saved his most savage and blunt assessment for himself after the Lakers’ third straight loss, 103-93 Sunday at the hands of fellow league elder Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center.

“If I could make a damn shot that would help,” he responded when asked what was the fastest way for the Lakers to get out of their season-opening funk. “I suck right now.”

Kobe is an ugly 16-for-51 from the floor and shooting a putrid 20.7 percent (6-for-29) from 3-point range. When asked if he had any issues right now, he was quick to go right back at himself.

“Yeah, I’m the 200th best player in the league right now. I freaking suck,” Bryant said, taking aim at the player rankings from various outlets that had him pegged outside of the top players in the game he’s dominated for so long.

He finished with 15 points on 3-for-15 shooting Sunday. But he refused to blame the time he took off during the preseason to nurse a leg injury, the system, his young teammates or anything else offered up as potential contributing factor to his struggles.

“Listen, the guys are getting me the ball,” he said. “They are making great passes. It’s their job to facilitate and it’s my job to finish. I’ve just got to do the responsible thing and make ’em for them.”

Hang Time Road Trip II: Going back to Cali!

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

OAKLAND — On the road again.

Part II.

The Remix.

California Dreaming.

We considered them all as theme’s for this season’s Hang Time Road Trip, the follow-up to last season’s raucous 3,600-mile trek that took us from Cleveland and through fellow Central Division hot spots in Chicago and Indianapolis and on to Philadelphia, New York and, eventually, Chapel Hill, N.C.

We’re taking a different route this time around. We won’t cover nearly as many miles but we’re going back to California, where we spent tons of quality time during the playoffs and, ultimately, The Finals. It is the state some would say is the epicenter of the NBA universe as we kick off the 2015-16 season.

The champs reside here, after all. Eyes around the league will be on KIA MVP Stephen Curry and his Splash Bros. partner, Klay Thompson, and the rest of the Golden State Warriors as they target on a repeat performance from last season, when they ended a 40-year title drought for the franchise.

Our eight-day sojourn kicks off in Warriors territory, where Luke Walton is filling in for Steve Kerr as interim coach as Kerr continues his indefinite leave of absence while recovering from summer back surgery. Before we finish we’ll have chewed up plenty of highway between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, where we’ll get up close and personal with the Lakers and Clippers.

***


VIDEO: Pacers boss Larry Bird visited on the Hang Time Road Trip bus last year

Kobe Bryant‘s back from injury and for what, as of this moment, is his final season under contract with the only franchise he’s known in his future Hall of Fame career. We’ll find out what he has left in his tank and if his latest supporting cast is up to the task of sending him out the right way, if this is indeed his final campaign in purple and gold. Are youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, as well as veterans Roy Hibbert and Metta World Peace, capable of holding up their part of the deal?

And no one has had a more eventful offseason than Doc Rivers and his crew (no emoji’s from us, fellas), who figure to be one the biggest threats to the Warriors’ parade plans this season. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and their free-agent contingent did everything they could to make sure DeAndre Jordan didn’t go anywhere, not with reinforcements in the form of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson ready to help with the heavy lifting this season.

You know there will be plenty of craziness along the road — it’s what we do on the Hang Time Podcast — but as always our mission remains hoops. And where better to get things started than the Great State of California, where the storylines are aplenty.

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (using the hashtag #NBAHangTime):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Knicks boss Phil Jackson visits during the inaugural Hang Time Road Trip

Morning shootaround — Oct. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Oct. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cousins likes his MVP chances | Whiteside a no-go tonight vs. Magic | Lakers’ youngsters lap up Bryant’s feedback | Booker, Hibbert scuffle in Hawaii

No. 1: Cousins says MVP is his ‘to grab’ this season — Success in the win column has been hard to come by for Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins. While he was an All-Star last season, the Kings have never won more than 29 games in any of his five seasons with the team. A roster restocked with veterans and a full season under coach George Karl have given Cousins hope of not just the playoffs, but of the grandest piece of NBA hardware come season’s end. Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report has more:

The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.

“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”

In five previous NBA seasons, Cousins has never gotten even a single fifth-place vote for MVP, and his vertical isn’t the kind to invoke visions of such a quantum leap over myriad more established superstars.

His approach transcends hard work on the court or powering ahead with a limp in camp despite a “real tender” left heel. Cousins has made a totally fresh commitment to being the best he can be, becoming a constant at the Kings training facility late in the offseason in search of every edge he can get for his team.

And if the professionalism continues, Cousins is right to believe he can be the best.

“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”

New teammate Rajon Rondo floated the same idea during Kings media day, telling reporters: “Not to put any pressure on him, but I expect nothing less but MVP.”

“I don’t trust the rebuilding system in the NBA,” Karl said. “It has failed about 80 percent of the time.”

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive wants to win quickly, too; the franchise moves to a new arena next season.

Most importantly, however, this is what Cousins wants.

He said his new veteran teammates are “incredible.”

“You’ve got guys who know how to play the game, guys that know the game,” Cousins said. “Coming out and building chemistry is even easier. Trying to do that with younger guys? They’re trying to figure out their game and learn how to play.”

Even so, and despite their recent discord, Karl, who reportedly worked to trade Cousins over the summer before the team decided to unite behind the young center, can’t resist criticizing this facet of Cousins that “cheapened the game” and cost the team key possessions last season.

“DeMarcus has got to make a commitment just not to allow frustration to cause a disruption in the game,” Karl said. “I don’t like negative emotion in a game. I think it’s a sign of weakness.”

Karl’s free-flowing offense figures to help Cousins tremendously with spacing on the floor, yet already in camp it has been Cousins often jacking up desperate three-pointers.

In ways big and small, Boogie’s poise and professionalism are going to decide this season in Sacramento.


VIDEO: Take an All-Access look at DeMarcus Cousins at training camp

*** (more…)

Metta World Peace rejoins the Lakers


VIDEO: Metta World Peace and the Lakers are set to do it again in Kobe Bryant’s final season under contract

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Go ahead, call it a comeback for Metta World Peace with the Los Angeles Lakers. After weeks of will-he-or-won’t-they speculation about him making a return to the NBA (and the Lakers), the organization is ready to make it official by signing World Peace to a one-year deal on Thursday.

On a team with plenty of fresh faces and looking forward to the return of Kobe Bryant for what could be his final season under contract with the Lakers, the return of World Peace will add another heavy dose of spice to what should be an extremely interesting training camp.

Prized rookie D’Angelo Russell has already produced plenty of headlines of his own, based strictly on his activity since Draft night and through Summer League. And veteran center Roy Hibbert trying to find his way back to an elite level in a Lakers uniform is a journey worthy of its own reality show. The news of his signing comes after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak suggested that it was only a “possibility” and that “nothing was imminent.”

But the Lakers must have seen something they liked from the 35-year old World Peace, who has reportedly been working out with Lakers players all summer. A 15-year veteran who has had stops with six different NBA teams, World Peace was out of the league last year, playing overseas in China and Italy.

By returning to the Lakers on this one-year deal, World Peace has a chance to ride out his career alongside Bryant. The pairing has worked before, with World Peace helping save the day in Game 7 of The Finals in 2010.

Critics will point out, and rightfully so, that was a lifetime ago in NBA years. And there are obviously some other crucial pieces (Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol, etc.) from that championship puzzle missing. The Lakers, however, are trying to scratch and claw their way back into the playoff mix in the Western Conference by any means necessary it seems.

If they believe a seasoned veteran like World Peace has enough left in him to aid that cause, then they are right to add him to their already intriguing 2015-16 mix.